Across cities, countries and continents Don and Jo Liles have remained committed to one another for better or for worse. The Liles have traveled or lived in 61 countries and 48 states of the US.
Marrying on August 19, 1950, the Liles marked 73 years of marriage on August 19, 2023. They celebrated at Granbury’s 1890 Grill with a meal of escargot. A savory dish they learned to appreciate while stationed in France.
It’s almost inconceivable today to think of a marriage lasting so long, and yet the Liles are very humble and matter of fact about their love. A love that reaches into eight decades.
Don, age 93, and Jo, age 91 remain active. They don’t seem to find it extraordinary that they live independently. Their two sons that they refer to as “the boys” are now 70 and 68 years old.
The Liles met as students at Tarleton in 1948 when it was a two-year college.
The first date for Don and Jo was a dance at the girls dorm.
“I couldn’t dance worth a fiddle. The first time I had ever danced was with her (Jo),” offers Don and Jo quickly chimes in, “And you have danced little since.” They both laugh.
Clearly a sense of humor has helped them make the distance. And what a distance it’s been.
Don and Jo both seem surprised that they fell for one another with one being a rancher’s daughter from Comanche and one being a mail carriers’ son from Dublin.
Don was in ROTC as a student. After his two years at Tarleton and Jo’s one year they would marry.
“I just asked her. I just said, “Don’t you think we ought to get married? And she said, Okay!’”
The Liles married outside her parent’s rock ranch home in Comanche. They moved to Austin so that Don could complete a bachelor's degree in business administration.
“We pooled our resources. I worked in the UT bookstore. Prices were so low at that time. Books and tuition was hardly anything so I could pay my own way,” Don said.
Jo worked in Austin for the Game, Fish and Oyster Commission now known as Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“It was a fantastic job! I worked for the guy in charge. I just really liked the atmosphere. It was interesting,” shares Jo.
Don accepted his commission as 2nd Lieutenant on June 1, 1951.
“The Army was nice enough to let me finish my degree in 1952,” explains Don, before he had to report for duty in Fort Lee, VA.
Don’s first assignment was quartermaster transferred to an artillery aircraft unit. He attended school in Fort Bliss for the assignment and it was there that the Liles’ first son Tom was born.
In August of 1952 Don got orders for Korea. Jo would go back to Comanche with infant Tom. As Don and his fellow soldiers were flying over to Korea the accords were signed. They landed in Okinawa, Japan where they remained for 10-12 weeks.
Jo and Tom remained in Comanche from September 1952 to April 1954 before they were able to join Don. Don was a second lieutenant at that time stationed in Hokkaido.
“Housing was not available for families of second lieutenants, so I paid a guy 1,800 dollars to build us a house. April of ‘54 the whole division moved to Honshu, and I had to leave Jo and Tom in Hokkaido.”
Don lived with a sergeant and his wife, Don was able to fly to see Jo every two weeks at the Honshu Air Force base before he was able to get her and Tom to Camp Haugen where there was a two-story family quarters. The younger Liles’ son David was born at Camp Haugen.
The Liles would barely settle at Camp Haugen before Don received his next orders. It was 1956, a special commission to Virginia investigating procurement for the war, and then some time in Pennsylvania for a large defense agency.
In March 1958, he got the orders for France.
“You (Don) came home to the apartment at noon and said we are going to France. We had friends and their two children staying with us. The movers came at 2 p.m. the same day,” Jo said.
The Liles shared that through all the moves they have been surprised to have lost very little of their possessions.
“If I liked it, I would take it with us,” said Jo. Don added, our first move was in a four-door Studebaker, all that we owned was in the back seat.”
France held so many new adventures. March of 1958 Don went to France, Jo and the boys went to Comanche and rented a place until Don got quarters for the family and could bring them to France.
While waiting on quarters Don rented a three-story “haunted” house in the local village.
“It didn’t have central heat or anything. Built in 1880. Because of the shelling in World War II there was a bare wall on one side. Just a one-sided wall where the other house (that was connected) had been,” shares Don.
Jo adds, “Had a generator with diesel fuel. We were there about a year before we got housing on base. The ground floor had a hay mo, and the septic was in the basement.
“First story was ground floor, place to park your car, to process the grapes and the septic. Wall was five and half or 6 ft. tall. There was wire on the rock wall for the grapes. The boys got to play with the French boys. The French boys learned a little English,” Don elaborates.
Then on to base housing, “the guaranteed rental,” Don explains, ¨We called them the butter houses. The US sold 10,000 lbs. of butter to build them.”
Resilience is a theme that runs through the Liles story, and an upbeat, take things as they come attitude, ready for anything.
“Oh, I had a great time. I just liked everything,” Jo said with a smile, “We tried to travel all we could, with the children, of course.”
“They had a monument in the town for World War II, 7 million had died. And they still gave it a lot of honor. There was a large fortress around Verdun that was leveled to dirt and what was there before was a building made of huge rocks and it had been destroyed to just sand,” Jo reflected.
Don would then take a quartermaster’s course then would become an instructor until June 1964, then another move. A 30-day school in Washington, DC to instruct how to be in Vietnam followed. Jo and the boys would use that time to sight see in DC.
Next, would be some time at home in Comanche. They would take the long way home to sight see across the country as they went.
Then Vietnam. And back in ‘65. Don would make Lt. Colonel. Don would then be assigned to an atomic weapons training group. In ‘67 on to Kansas for Command and General Staff school. 1968 brought the move to Germany. Don would go back to Vietnam, oldest son, Tom would stay in Frankfurt with friends to finish his junior year, then join brother David at Stephenville High School.
Don came back from Vietnam in January of ‘71 and was assigned to Richmond, VA. The boys would stay another six months in Stephenville. The family would settle in Chester, VA. Tom would stay the summer then attend the University of Texas.
Shortly after buying a house in Chester, Don was given the opportunity to get his master’s degree. He graduated January ‘72 and was assigned to the Springfield NJ office in defense contract administration. David graduated from High School in Chester. The family moved to their home in New Jersey. The Liles sons worked the summer in the area before both went back to Texas. Tom to UT and David to Tarleton.
Don Liles would be made Colonel in April 1974. Jo would be completing two decades as a soldier and officer's wife with all that entails. The hardest part for her? The coffees.
“I cannot stand coffee,” she said.
Jo recalls a time there was a coffee at the Vietnamese Embassy. They served her coffee, and it would be the only thing offered with nowhere to set the cup down. Don likes coffee and he enjoyed coffee in every nation he was stationed in. Only one cup was undrinkable. A coffee outside Rome.
Don shares, “It seems like wherever we were and whatever we did, it was interesting. We did a cruise while I was still in the army. It was a group of Army and Airforce families, and we all went on a cruise. Jo and I decided that was a good way to travel.”
November of ‘75 Director of procurement for Don in Dallas where he would stay until his retirement on July 1, 1977. Adventure for the Liles was just beginning. Retirement allowed Don the freedom to work any job he liked. And they travelled a lot. The Liles’ had enjoyed 42 cruises until COVID-19 hit. And lots of land tours, 18-20 or more.
Jo describes her mother finding her on the ranch growing up eating beans from a pie plate down at the neighbor’s house when they lived in Pumpville. Don tells of locker plant where families in Dublin could rent a space to put up their meat, eating whatever they could hunt.
Don recalls growing up in a house his dad built in Dublin when he returned from World War I in 1919 or 1920, it did not initially have electricity. Neither of the Liles imagined when they were children that they would one day travel the world.
“I never thought I would get out of Comanche. I never thought I would go anywhere,” reflects Jo.
After retiring to Arlington, Texas the Liles would eventually make their home in Granbury where Jo would paint watercolors with a classmate, play bridge, etc. Don would golf and sculpt Santa figures from bass wood, which he sells. Son Tom lives in Albuquerque, NM and son David lives in the Colony. The Liles have one grandson.
They say the secret to a long and happy marriage is to not argue too much. Some disagreements are understandable, shares Jo, “You can argue some, but not too much. None that are too exciting. We had bumps. Mainly because we had to get ready to move not knowing where we were going or what we were going to live in,”
Why do so many marriages end?
“They don’t try hard enough,” offers Don.
Jo agrees. And when traveling Don says, “Americans often have the wrong attitude. Instead of looking for knowledge or something interesting to see they are just looking to criticize.”